BEIRUT — Just $122 per month: that’s Lebanon’s median household income, according to a Human Rights Watch report published last week.
In the span of a decade, Lebanon’s median household income is now roughly a quarter of what it once was.
The report, based on a survey of 1,209 households conducted between November 2021 and January 2022, underlines the depths to which Lebanon has sunk amid a three-year economic crisis that the World Bank has called one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century.
What does it mean to live with a decimated income? How are people getting by?
L’Orient Today interviewed three different people to understand how their lives have changed since the beginning of the crisis.
Here are their testimonies.
Fares Haniyah, 33, architect: ‘Now we all depend on the money that my brother sends from abroad’
In the span of three years, Fares Haniyah went from being able to manage on a decent salary, to now relying on his expat brother.
“ I used to make $1,500,” he tells L’Orient Today.
“In early 2020, 80 percent of my salary remained in fresh dollars and was paid to me in cash, while 20 percent was paid to me in lira at the official rate of LL1,500 [to the dollar]. I obviously wasn’t thrilled at the prospect. I got a suitable offer from an architectural firm in Doha, Qatar, but I decided to remain in Lebanon as my parents are getting older and I didn’t want to leave them alone,” he says.
Haniyah’s older brother had already left Lebanon when he was 17 to study in the US and hasn’t been back since, except for fleeting summer breaks.
Haniyah, who is married and has two children under the age of three, was still getting by with this monthly salary, spending $200 for a five-ampere power generator subscription, $700 on groceries and house necessities and $300 on transportation to and from work.
The 20 percent he earned in Lebanese lira was given fully to his elderly parents. Haniyah’s father is a retired Lebanese Army soldier: “My dad’s salary is now worth peanuts,” Haniyah says, adding that his dad worked for decades “serving loyally in the army.”
“It all came tumbling down this time last year, when the company started paying us our salaries at the bank’s rate of LL8,000. I make around LL12,000,000, which means I’m barely getting by. My family and my parents are now all depending on my brother abroad to send us help,” he says.
“The rent for my two bedroom apartment is $250, to be paid in fresh dollars. That is LL10,750,000,” he explains.
“The remaining LL1,250,000 is spent on my transportation to and from work, and my brother sends me $350 for groceries.”
Haniyah had to pull his daughters mid-semester out of the private school they had attended for the past six years and transfer them to “an overcrowded shabby public school.”
“It breaks my heart that I had to do this but there’s no other way. My daughters cry every morning because they want to go back to their old school, classroom and friends but I had to be realistic, we are living paycheck to paycheck now.”
Dania Hamzeh, 35, freelance graphic designer : ‘I had to move back in with my parents’
Dania Hamzeh takes a long drag of her cigarette as she recalls her career before 2019.
The 9-5 life never attracted her. She worked long and hard to avoid it, before the life she always wanted “was ripped apart” in front of her eyes.
“I chose to be a freelancer because it allowed me to work at my own pace, travel and simply be. I never wanted to be a slave to the corporate world” Hamzeh says.
That’s exactly how she lived, freelancing for reputable companies in the Gulf, handling big projects, earning more than $3,000 in the best of months, and never less than $1,500 when work was slow.
Hamzeh, who used to live in a fully furnished studio in Beirut’s Hamra district, paid $600 in rent monthly; otherwise, she spent her salary as she pleased.
“I would bounce between cooking full meals to save money for a trip or a designer bag I really wanted, to ordering food every day; I simply lived at my own pace,” she says gleefully.
“When the economic crisis started in 2019, Gulf companies were not oblivious to this and they understood the desperation we were facing.”
In November 2019, Hamzeh submitted her final project for the year, for which she earned $2,500.
“In early January 2020, I was shocked when the same company offered me $650 for a project similar to the one I had finished in November. It has been going downhill since,” she says. She had to accept the project, for lack of a better paying one.
Hamzeh moved back to her parents’ house in the Mar Elias neighborhood to save on rent and utilities and now makes no more than $450 per month.
Her trips and lavish spending have become a thing of the past, and her outings now do not go past grabbing coffee with friends.
“I’m still considered one of the lucky ones,” she concludes with a wry smile.
Naji Khoury, 58, carpenter: ‘This crisis has been a blessing and a curse for me’
“A blessing and a curse, this is exactly how this crisis has been, in my case at least,” says Naji Khoury, a 58-year-old carpenter.
He takes a long sip of his dark black coffee before continuing.
“I used to sell a six-door cupboard of average quality at $600. As the lira lost its value against the dollar, and inflation spiraled, I now sell the same cupboard at $200,” he says.
“This is when my business started booming,” he adds, because citizens who earn their salaries in fresh dollars, or those who have a steady income from family or loved ones abroad are now able to afford new furniture.
“I used to make up to two of these cupboards per month. Now, I make between two and five of them per month,” he says.
Khoury has two sons studying mechanical engineering at the Lebanese University. He cares for his sons single handedly since his wife died several years ago.
“They each need LL150,000 per day for transportation to and from uni. I live in my parents’ old house, may their souls rest in peace, so at least I don’t pay rent,” he says.
He pays $280 for a five-ampere power generator monthly subscription, and $350 for food.
“I’m 58 years old. In a normal country I would be preparing for my retirement. But here in Lebanon I think I will have to remain working for the next decade until my kids graduate and find jobs. Only then can I start depending on them.”
BEIRUT — Just $122 per month: that’s Lebanon’s median household income, according to a Human Rights Watch report published last week. In the span of a decade, Lebanon’s median household income is now roughly a quarter of what it once was.The report, based on a survey of 1,209 households conducted between November 2021 and January 2022, underlines the depths to which Lebanon has sunk amid...